The tall, unassuming gent sprawling in the lounge at downtown's Seven Grand whiskey bar, sporting a flannel shirt and jeans, might easily pass for a customer, but he's here to chat about his burgeoning sidewalk empire of cocktail lounges. For nearly two decades, Cedd Moses has helmed 213 Hospitality, the organization responsible for more than a score of distinctive drinking (and eating) establishments that have revitalized the downtown L.A. social scene — and a few other scenes as well.
But before taking up the subject of his enterprise, Moses takes up the drink he just ordered and rhapsodizes about Seven Grand's newly installed machine that concocts the perfect highball. "It allows you to achieve the right levels of carbonation and coldness so that the ice doesn't dilute the whiskey," he enthuses.
Whiskey is just one of Moses' passions — he's a downtown L.A. booster in love with the grit and texture of its older buildings, so it's no accident that most of his establishments are sited in historic structures. "Generally, for a bar, you don't need obvious retail frontage — it's better to have an element of discovery," he says, explaining why some of his properties are below street level or otherwise tucked away.
The Varnish is Moses' homage to a Prohibition-era speakeasy, and is itself hidden at the rear of the street-level Cole's French Dip, L.A.'s oldest restaurant, which Moses took over (and saved) in 2007, and restored to the tune of $1.6 million.
Surprisingly, this isn't the business Moses started out in. It's no secret that his father was celebrated L.A. artist Ed Moses, and that he comes from a family of creative trailblazers. Moses, 58, began as a money manager, but his upbringing encouraged passionate exploration, and now he embraces his love of food and drink, atmospheric places and noirish sensibilities. He's also an inveterate racetrack habitué: His first bar, Liquid Kitty, was named for Moses' own thoroughbred horse (which in turn was named for a punk band he played in).
All these passions are at home at 213 Hospitality, which has expanded to new cities (San Diego and Austin, Texas, where 7 Grand has new outposts), and whose other L.A. venues are now almost too numerous to mention. Moses is loath to single out any of his properties as favorites, but he does like to observe that one of his earliest, the Golden Gopher, has the oldest liquor license in L.A. "It's grandfathered to actually allow carry-out booze," he says. Another one on his mind in blueprints: the long-shuttered 1939 Harvey House restaurant at Union Station, a magnificent cavernous space that Moses has leased and will open later this year with an in-house brewery.
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But what Moses is most passionate about is people — his 600-plus staff and those in his host neighborhoods. "I see the 213 business as an inverted pyramid. I'm at the bottom — and I work for everyone else,'' he says, adding that he strives to build a nurturing, career path–focused environment where barbacks can aspire to be mixologists, where brewmasters and events staff have room to grow.
Meanwhile, outside the doors of many 213 Hospitality properties are throngs of homeless men, women and children. To raise funds for L.A.'s 60,000 dispossessed, Moses co-founded the nonprofit Spirited Coalition for Change, whose current focus, Hope Gardens, offers services to women and children. "If you order the Community Drink at any of our participating bars, $1 goes to the nonprofit. We hope to raise $150,000 this year for Hope Gardens," he explains.
It's clear that what Moses also hopes to raise is awareness that downtown Los Angeles is now a vibrant, 'round-the-clock district, alive with entertainment and authentic social interaction. He and his team just happen to be one of the biggest reasons why. Like the machine in his whiskey bar, he's added much more fizziness to the mix.